How Pauling Bent the Double Bond

The simple truth is I am fascinated by Linus Pauling, and this fascination has treated me very well over the past year. I was fortunate to be selected as one of the 2010 Linus Pauling Resident Scholars at Oregon State University Special Collections, and I had one of the most productive, joyous summers of my life working with Cliff Mead and the archivists in Corvallis. This past week, I presented some of the results of my research at the 2010 meeting of the History of Science Society in Montreal, and the work was received with more enthusiasm than I could have dreamed of. Last night, when I got home after the 650-mile drive, I was welcomed back with a letter from the department notifying me that my comprehensive papers in both history and philosophy had passed the scrutiny of the departmental readers and that my work on Pauling was “remarkable.” I don’t like to brag too often, but I am just thrilled with this project and so excited to continue to share it with other scholars and recreational historians and scientists. And this afternoon, thanks again to Cliff, I discovered that I can do just that right now, with a little help from YouTube. Special Collections was kind enough to take video of my general-audience talk on Pauling and the structure of the double bond in August, and it was posted today. The talk is an early iteration of the project, so bear in mind that things are more polished these days. But it should provide an approachable introduction to Pauling’s defense of the bent-bond structure of the double bond.

For those who prefer reading a more polished version, my paper Pauling’s Defense of the Bent-Equivalent Bond is available for viewing. For those who want to see pretty pictures, slides from my HSS talk are also available. They summarize the talk pretty well, although my spiel on why we should care about how Pauling modeled the double bond didn’t make it on there. So for the sake of completeness, here it is:

Valence bond models fell into relative disuse throughout the latter half of the 20th century because the mathematics it required to model complex molecules was impractical—intractable by the computers of the time. But, with improvements in computing power starting in the 1990s, it became possible to make a wider range of predictions for a wider range of systems than previously using valence models. Now, there is a small but growing community of chemists who have defended Pauling’s model in recent years, although none have turned to Pauling’s own reasons for defending the model when they have created their defenses. Pauling stuck by the bent-bond model until his death, and he was a pretty smart guy, so for others looking to defend the model it is worth investigating Pauling’s own defense.

It’s a good day for fans of the bent-equivalent bond, blogosphere.


About burstenj

Assistant Professor of Philosophy
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3 Responses to How Pauling Bent the Double Bond

  1. Kristian says:

    Nice work, you!! I love to see Rice grads kicking ass and taking names. 🙂 Also, you’re an excellent speaker.

  2. Hi Julia,

    The bent bond model is indeed live and well. Check out our recent article: DOI: 10.1039/c1ob05393k
    A follow-up article extending the concept to pericyclic reactions is also in the works.

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